Barkley is still nation's best QB

Matt Barkley, Geno Smith and AJ McCarron rank among the nation's best quarterbacks. Getty Images

The degree to which Kansas State Wildcats quarterback Collin Klein has a positive impact on his team is remarkable. His selflessness, leadership and effectiveness as a runner are unquestioned. In fact, he might be voted the most well-liked and admired quarterback in the country if you polled all of my analyst colleagues at ESPN, and if you asked me to put together a list of the players who mean the most to their teams, I'd probably rank him in the top five.

So how is it that he's nowhere to be found on this list, the latest version of my college football quarterback rankings? Allow me to explain.

In putting together this ranking (for the preseason edition, click here), I'm looking for two things:

1) how effective, productive and dynamic he is during the college football season, and
2) how much of an NFL-caliber skill set he has.

These are two very different aspects to be considering, and I want to be clear that I'm not just ranking these passers based on their pro potential. But the abilities coveted by NFL teams when it comes to QBs are incredibly valuable on the collegiate level as well, and often there is no substitute for the elite passing talent of a top-level college quarterback. (For example, you'll notice if you read on that there are no Big Ten quarterbacks in the top 10 of this list -- do you think that struggling conference would like to have NFL rookies Kirk Cousins and Russell Wilson back right about now?)

Which brings us back to Klein, who, despite all of his qualities, is grossly unprepared for the NFL game in his passing mechanics and throwing ability. And while Kansas State does a good job of masking his limitations as a passer by asking him to do more with his legs, there's no getting around the fact that the Wildcats simply can't challenge a defense in the passing game the way, say, USC can with Matt Barkley.

One last note before I get into the top 10: I fully expect this list to change as I check back in throughout the season. Particularly at the top, with a lot of talented passers being faced with some tough challenges and questions, there will be a lot of volatility -- and there is no shortage of up-and-comers pushing to make the list.

With three weeks of the 2012 season in the books, here is my ranking of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football:

1. Matt Barkley, USC Trojans

Previous rank: 1

One poor outing might end up preventing Barkley from taking care of the "unfinished business" for which he returned to school (namely, a national championship), but his body of work over four years is too sizable to remove him from his No. 1 perch, even after Saturday's disappointing loss to Stanford.